Mothers in lockdown: Louella

Name: Louella

Children: Felix 7, Ridley 3, Otis 7 months

Location: West Yorkshire

What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you? My biggest concerns were around my children not having much socialisation. We had not long moved and my eldest Felix had just started a new school, he is on the spectrum and change and lack of routine affects him deeply.

I had also literally just given birth when lockdown came in, and I had all sorts of plans to get myself out with my baby into the community and avoid a possible reoccurrence of post natal depression.

What was the reality of those first few weeks of lockdown for you? The first few weeks were scary, I was stripped of all healthcare support, post natally and mentally. Even mine and Otis’ post-birth checks were done through my kitchen window. I felt incredibly alone, however I was in awe of my new baby and still mesmerised for the first few weeks. I think that got us through as a family having a baby to take care of.

I was having a difficult time breastfeeding, he kept falling asleep and I worried he wasn’t getting enough milk. One evening it ended in a trip to A+E, he was about two weeks old at the time. 

The hospital was extremely surreal with covid booths and masks, but needs must and I blocked out what I could to focus on getting him seen, he was diagnosed with jaundice and received treatment for that.

During his stay doctors picked up an extra sound on his heart, we were reassured lots of babies have murmors, but he would be referred for a scan in a few weeks just to check. I thought nothing more of it and was happy to leave the hospital a few days later.

Has lockdown changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased? Being in a new area and lockdown restrictions easing it’s been great to finally explore more, we have been doing a lot more out doorsy stuff and that’s what I wanted my children to grow up doing, and why we left Manchester. 

It’s been difficult having family in Manchester and Bristol not being able to visit and stay over in our home. It’s also been difficult having a new born that is now 7 months old, and none of my best friends have met him. The restrictions have eased until recently, but the strain is still there.

Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown? The easiest part of lockdown has been, being able to wear PJ’s all day and not brushing my hair, not spending a bunch of money on baby clothes. I’ve loved my time with my kids, I love them dearly and this time has just amplified what was always there, but obviously overlooked by everyday frustrations. Don’t get me wrong I still lose my shit with them at times.

Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown? This is no short answer, and also a painful one.

4 weeks after Otis had jaundice we attended an appointment for a scan on his heart. I remember the morning before it so well, it felt like a nuisance travelling to a hospital waiting around, the hospital being even more clinical x1000. I went to check in, and I felt dizzy. I was super-weirded out, I forgot his name at the desk, but it was okay I was reassured by the receptionist.

We went in to see the paediatrician, he was a lovely man and could see I was flustered. After the scan he asked me to take a seat, I was not prepared for what he told me; Otis had a large hole in his heart, a Ventricular Septal Defect and not only that he had another defect on his aorta called Coarctation of the Aorta and needed urgent life saving surgery. I was stunned.

The doctor was so lovely. It wasn’t registering with me and so he rung my husband off my mobile as it was only a one parent appointment because of the rules. I had carried Otis in to the appointment, but my legs had turned to jelly and a nurse had to carry him out of the hospital for me I was scared I’d drop him.

Two days later we were at Leeds children’s hospital, he was admitted straight away and only one parent could stay. I chose to do it, as his mother – I carried him for 9 months, I grew him, I wasn’t leaving him, he needed my milk, he needed to hear my heart beat. I think* we were admitted on the Thursday and on Saturday morning it was the day of his operation. I arranged with my husband to visit and meet us in the corridor on the way to Otis’ surgery. That day was the worst day of my life.

After saying our goodbyes to Otis I broke down. The closest I can describe the feeling I felt was akin to being pushed off a cliff repeatedly, the sensations rushing around my body was pure dread and fear. My husband had been given parents accomodation at the hospital, and so we went to stay in there. Otis was gone from 8 in the morning until 5pm, I didn’t know if my baby was dead or alive, I waited outside the ward door for hours waiting for a response. My body went in to shock that day, and my milk abruptly stopped and my womb was contracting like labour pains, I had my first huge post birth period all whilst we waited for news.

At 5pm I was called in to ICU, Otis was alive but they had struggled to maintain him post surgery so it took longer than expected. Walking into a room where your child is hooked up to at least 20 machines to keep them alive is terrifying, something so small and so precious already giving the fight of their life was so unfair. I was helpless and broken, I had to do this on my own.

The nurses were head to toe PPE – I remember stern conversations between them about the limited supplies of protection – and I had to wear PPE too. My baby couldn’t see his mama, the nurses couldn’t hug me, my own mum couldn’t come and hug me. I just sat and held his hand, that’s all I could do. 

The days passed and I became very unwell. I was so alone and traumatised. Hell, I couldn’t even get a smile from a stranger, the masks took that away from me.

I spent my evenings calling doctors and suicide charities to try and keep myself safe. It was truly the hardest time of my life. I couldn’t cope with the pain of my child being in pain and my thoughts made little sense, everything was so overwhelming. It got to a point where the staff on ward 51 were spending hours on the phone trying to get me emergency help. I made it through.

Otis and I were in hospital for a total of 14 days. My little boy is incredible and I was so happy to take him home, but I was ready for the back-to-covid-reality post-trauma crash. IT WAS HARD!

I’d been prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, and I was also taking sleeping pills to get through the night. Yes my baby was home, but I didn’t think we would ever make it out, and now I had the responsibility to give him life-saving medicines. I was so overwhelmed and scared, but I got there! I got organised I kept myself busy I found strength from my other two sons and their love and I done what I needed. 

Two weeks later (with no family or services to support you after such a horrendous situation) we were back at the hospital getting a check up scan. I never wanted to be in the hospital again it was so triggering and painful I wanted to bury it. Following the scan we got some bad news, there was something abnormal in his heart. I just died again inside all over again.

Bloods were taken and further scans and tests. It came back he had contracted a super-rare heart infection called Endocarditis, which meant a 6 week stay in hospital on intravenous antibiotics, and again, one parent only. After my failing mental health we took the decision that my husband would stay with him this time and I would look after my other two sons. I had to find a balance, I had to keep myself safe, and I knew my children were counting on me.

The next 6 weeks were isolation on isolation thanks to lockdown. It was just me, Felix and Ridley and I put everything in to getting through each day. At night I fell apart, at night I took my tablets. The days were long and hard I felt I was betraying my baby, and my husband was alone. I knew how heavy and lonely those hospital walls were. I longed for my mum or sisters to just hold me, and when things got so bad, with the permission of health professionals (Fuck Boris), I went to stay with my mum in Manchester. It was what I needed. My children had also suffered through this whole ordeal, and at the same time my granny was also dying from covid. My mum was in so much pain. I think we all cried for 6 weeks straight. 

The time came for Otis to come home and I was so overjoyed at being a mum to my baby again, however he didn’t remember me. That hurt, but I told myself we could start again the most important thing was he was still here and we had that chance.

Oats my Goats, has been recovering well and it’s almost 6 months post surgery. He is a special little boy, he has the deepest brown eyes you can get lost in and I don’t ever take them for granted. 

What has helped you get through lockdown? People, love, strangers. My children. The staff on ward 51 and the surgeons who saved my son’s life.

Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? Patience, that my children are children and I’m very grateful for their every being. I just wish they would tidy up after themselves.

Are there things that you might even miss? I won’t miss anything about this year, perhaps just wearing my PJs all day everyday?!

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